Learn How to Bowl Using Lane Markings
At first glance, a bowling lane appears to be fairly straightforward, a slicked wooden surface that leads to the pins at the other end. Yet if you take a closer look, you’ll see various bowling-lane markings, including a bunch of small arrows and dots you’ve likely never noticed before. Whether you go bowling every week with your friends or you’re a complete beginner in need of bowling tips, these markings can actually teach you how to bowl better. You simply have to know how to use them. Luckily, we’ve created this guide to show you exactly that.
The Boards: More than Just a Place to Stand
Have you ever seen a carpeted bowling lane? Of course not, because that would be kind of gross. But it would also eliminate the boards, a.k.a., one of your most important weapons against bowling mediocrity. To fully understand lane markings, you must first understand the boards and their layout:
- What are the boards?: Bowling lanes are composed of 39 strips of wood that run all the way to the pins. These strips are known as boards, and every board is an inch wide on average. There are 39 boards from the edge of each gutter. (Keep in mind, synthetic lanes might not have boards, but they usually have a pattern overlay that resembles natural-wood lanes.)
- How to count the boards: The first board is on the right if you’re a righty, and opposite if you’re a lefty. Either way, board No. 20 is always in the middle, which is convenient once you start using …
The Dots: Set Up Perfectly Every Turn
Before you even send your ball hurtling toward the helpless pins, where you set up on your bowling lane will determine how successful your shot is. To help you during your setup, each lane features multiple rows of dots leading up to the foul line (some alleys have seven dots, others have five dots depending on which company built the lanes). No matter the number, the dots are crucial. Here’s what to know:
- Location: There is one set of dots a few feet behind the foul line, and another running parallel along the foul line on the same boards.
- Placement: Each dot is five boards apart, so about five inches. The dots line up precisely with the arrows on the lane (more on those below) and with the front pins on a full rack.
- Style: All the dots look the same except for the center one, which might be a bit larger to mark board No. 20—or, the lane’s exact midpoint.
- Purpose: In a word, consistency. Pay attention to where you set up and how your ball behaves, and if your shots are off the mark, adjust accordingly using the dots as your guide.
The Arrows: The Key to Aiming
By now, you might be realizing how symmetrical a bowling lane really is. From the middle board to the set-up dots, everything is in a very precise place, and the arrows on the lane itself are no different. Even if you have noticed these arrows before, you’ve probably ignored them and just started launching balls down the lane. But when used in conjunction with the lane’s boards and set-up dots, the arrows can transform you into a sharpshooter, right after you learn these things:
- Location: The arrows are on the lane about 15 feet past the foul line. In comparison, the pins are 60 feet away, meaning the arrows are much easier targets.
- Shape: The arrows are laid out in a triangular configuration. There are seven altogether, and the middle arrow (also known as No. 4) lines up perfectly with the head pin and the center set-up dot.
- Purpose: Your instinct to stare down the pins is understandable—after all, they are the main target. But really, you shouldn’t even look at the pins until you’ve released the ball. Instead, pick an arrow (No. 2 is usually a good place to start) and try to roll your ball right over the top of it. Again, pay attention to how your ball behaves, and keep adjusting until you achieve some consistency. Speaking of consistency …
When you use the information offered by a bowling lane’s boards, dots, arrows, you should have no problem rolling consistently good balls. As you become more familiar with the markings, you can even start to use more advanced tactics. Professionals, for instance, utilize the boards in between the arrows as markers. Above all, you have to do some experimentation to discover what the markings are telling you about your shots. Be prepared to bag some turkeys once it all clicks.
Eddie Carroll is one of three Eddie Carrolls in his family. When he's not writing, Eddie enjoys baseball, hiking, and building blanket forts.